I’m not special: UN’s only top female cop

SUDANTHE police in the UN peacekeeping operations are there to assist the host country police,” says Priscilla Makotose, the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) Police Commissioner, the highest-ranking female police officer in the UN system, appointed in March 2016.

Makotose, a Zimbabwean national, has a wealth of experience in policing and management, with a policing career that spans more than 30 years. Within the UN system, she has had a taste of peacekeeping operations before her current posting – she was among the officers who served in the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in 2005.

In an interview with UN News Centre, Makotose explains the critical role played by UN Police components in peacekeeping and other UN missions, especially in helping to enhance the policing abilities of local police in host countries to serve the communities better:

Priscilla Makotose: Usually, the UN police are deployed in conflict or post-conflict environments. In most cases, in conflict or post-conflict areas, the local police would have lost their operational ability, and the UN police come in to re-establish them. If they have not lost their operational ability, their capacity to reach out to the rest of the population might have declined. This decline in capacity could also apply to their ability to provide the required police services.

Sometimes, they may have lost their credibility with the population. We help them to rebuild that and to reintegrate them, so that they are able to work for the community; that they’re responsible for the population’s safety and security, as well as being accountable to the population as civil servants.

UN News Centre: How different is your work from that of domestic police and other law enforcement?

Priscilla Makotose: Different UN missions deploy according to the mandate that they are given by the United Nations Security Council. So what they do is guided by the UN Security Council Resolution. For example, in UNAMID we are there for the protection of civilians. In some missions, UN police may have capacity building and mentoring roles, while in other peacekeeping missions, they may even have executive powers, where they actually act as the local police, providing services to the local community and the population.

The UN police do not go into a host country to replace the local police; unless it does not exist at all. If there is a resolution that gives executive powers, they may act as local police, carrying out crime prevention and detection tasks, including carrying out arrests. In most of the missions we are just there to support the local police: to enhance their capacity to serve their communities.

UN News Centre: Are there times when your roles clash with the roles of domestic police and other law enforcement agencies? 

Priscilla Makotose: In our roles, as defined, there is no conflict. Of course, from time to time we have some disagreements about the way things should be done. Sometimes, the host police do not admit that their way of doing things is wrong, but as UN, we say: let’s operate in a democratic and standard way of policing – which may be absent in the local police practices.

We also sometimes come into disagreements when we get denied access to certain areas. And again, we need to work on our relationships, and to make the host police understand that our roles are different, we are there to support them and the communities.

UN News Centre: What kind of crimes do you deal with in Darfur?

Priscilla Makotose: There are so many different crimes that occur in Darfur – and these may be found in any other country – but as UNAMID, we are mandated to monitor and report on gender-based violence and sexual violence. Also, because the presence of the police is not in all the areas, we also get other reports like murder, robbery, petty thefts and assaults – a whole spectrum of crimes that one would find in any other country.

Our role in those cases would be to coordinate with the local police so that they take the reports, investigate them, and make sure that the perpetrators are prosecuted. We also help them to ensure that they have preventive mechanisms in place – usually through proactive patrols – and help them to come up with community policing initiatives, while emphasising that the community should also play a part in their protection, through knowing what their rights are, what the crimes are, and being able to take the correct action when reporting cases, because that is critical for their own safety. That would ensure that the offenders are apprehended and dealt with according to the laws of the host country.

UN News Centre: You did mention gender-based and sexual violence. As a woman, how difficult or easy is it for you to deal with sexual and gender-based violence?

Priscilla Makotose: Cases of gender-based and sexual violence are never easy; they are very difficult cases. Sometimes they occur within families, and that makes it even more difficult to deal with them. In Darfur, these crimes are more prevalent when the women go about their livelihood activities, like going to collect grass and firewood; they often report that they are raped and abused. So as UNAMID, we do firewood collection patrols, the water-collection patrols – just to accompany the local women and ensure their safety.

We have also had to come up with other initiatives to try and help women so that they don’t go fetching firewood all the time. We have introduced efficient stoves, where they don’t use so much firewood; whatever firewood they have lasts longer, because these stoves are fuel-efficient.

The abused women tend to be very traumatised and, unfortunately, with the proliferation of small arms and ammunition, the people who normally abuse women when they are going about their daily activities or on the farms, use guns, which makes it even more traumatic, and very difficult for the women.

It’s also in the culture that women do not so much report cases to their husbands. The interaction between the women and the men is very limited, so when they are abused, or they face such crimes, it is important to have the necessary support systems for them to freely go and make their reports. And UNAMID is trying to create an environment where women would go freely and make their reports, and have a full investigation and prosecution of the offenders. It is required that UNAMID has a number of female police officers serving, so that the interaction between the local women and female officers is much easier than if these women were to report to male officers.

The other challenge we face is that there are very few local female police officers. We have some female police officers in the townships, but there are not many in the remote areas. So we have undertaken an initiative with the host country police to try and establish family and children protection units, which would then be responsible for receiving women and taking their reports, and ensuring that these reports are managed correctly.

We have also been in talks with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to try and increase the number of female officers in the remote areas. Right now, there are about 600, which, compared to male officers, is less than five percent. That’s very low. But we are trying to work on it, and increase the number of women that can be deployed in the remote areas. There is also a challenge of women not wanting to join the police for the fear of being removed from their families, because they know that since they are national police, they can be transferred anywhere. So we are trying to find a solution. We have had this discussion with our counterparts, and police for international cooperation. We are trying to work out a solution.

UN News Centre: As a high-ranking police officer, what would you say to women or female police officers in order to motivate them to join peacekeeping operations like you did? 

Priscilla Makotose: Policing is about the passion to serve people. There is a lot of gratification you get when you see that you have made a difference in another person’s life. I would like to urge the women to take up the challenge, and come out and join the peacekeepers, so that together we are able to serve and make a difference.

There is a need for female peacekeepers. We are in great need of women for the people in the internally displaced camps who need the services of females because, for cultural reasons, the interaction between men and women is not encouraged or easy. If we have more female police officers, we also hope to serve as role models for the women to know that they can also join the police, interact freely and give their reports.

I am asking the police-contributing countries to deploy more female police officers. I am not saying that the environment is easy; it’s a bit difficult, but it is just a matter of attitude, commitment, and knowing that you are doing something good, and serving for the peace of other people who really need it.

I know that sometimes people feel that it’s difficult, and are scared to take up positions of leadership or decision-making roles. Every person can make a mistake, but what is important would be to learn from your mistakes and move forward. There is no way I could be a perfect police commissioner; one day I will make a mistake, but what is important is that I am not making the mistake intentionally; it can happen, but I am being diligent to do the correct thing. And sometimes when you are diligent, when you work with other people around you, you minimise the incidence of mistakes, because there is a collective responsibility or teamwork, and a variety of ideas at your disposal to enable you to implement whatever mandate you might have.

So I would say: ladies, do not be discouraged; it’s possible, we can do it. Come, let’s do it together. I am really asking for more female police officers. Even in the leadership positions, we need to see more females, in line with the gender policy, and it would be a good day to see that we achieve this and move on to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of Planet 50-50.

If we accept the status quo, we will not move, but we have to keep on challenging each other, and helping each other, and supporting each other, and doing what we have to do. The world needs us, and there are many conflicts – there are about 80 missions – and the need is there. The most affected people in conflicts are women and children, and the female officers do make a difference in policing interactions in these conflicts.

UN News Centre: Your mandate as UN Police is definitely not going to last forever in Darfur. If you were to leave Darfur now, would you say the domestic police force is ready to effectively take up the policing role from UN Police?

Priscilla Makotose: Yes, there is a kind of willingness to engage and to be effective. But, there are so many limitations. Firstly, the police are not even in all the areas of Darfur. There are certain areas where they are not present, and it would be good to see them working there. Then there are also many challenges such as lack of necessary infrastructure. We have done a lot of training in capacity-building community policing, but there is still more to be done.

My own personal view is that there is a little bit more to be done, and also to give them the opportunity to perform effective policing duties. But the issue of us leaving now is not in our hands; that is determined by the Security Council.

As police we are always ready; we always have contingency plans in place on how to react in every situation. For now, I think we are doing well, we are cooperating well. We now have interaction committees at the federal level, at the sectoral level, and we have certain undertakings in terms of priorities, on the basis of a Memorandum of Understanding that we signed with the Government of Sudan Police, which we want to implement. We even have training programmes, which we have been requested to carry out. So we still feel that we have a little bit of work to do, and I am sure that with time we will get there. But certainly there is willingness from the host police to learn, and to take up their responsibilities of providing safety and security to the population or community.

UN News Centre: Lastly, how does it feel to be the only female UN Police Commissioner, and what would you say to girls aspiring to be in your role?

Priscilla Makotose: It’s certainly great to be a female Police Commissioner but it also requires a lot of hard work, especially now that I am the only one; there are so many tasks to fulfil. Nonetheless, my background has also prepared me to be able to interact, and to manage so many situations. As for other ladies who want to be Police Commissioners, the sky is the limit, ladies.

Anybody can be Police Commissioner. I don’t have anything special about me; it’s just my willingness to work, my commitment, my passion for the job, and I have a lot of support. That’s what makes it so much easier. I have a team that is very supportive, that is willing to work with me, and to respect my decisions, and I think we are doing great.

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